“If you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one…”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That is enough,” he replied. Luke 22:35-51
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Matthew 26:52
In the first post of this series that I call “WINNING Malchus (as opposed to WOUNDING him)” I talked about how NOT to evangelize for which Peter is our poster boy! Next we looked at Jesus’ alternative method of winning the hearts of people. He didn’t come with a sword in his hand but with nails in his hands! In this post and the next I’d like to examine the issue of how and why Peter, of all people, got his weapon in the first place!
Some say Jesus, knowing he’d misuse it, let Peter have a sword so he could heal Malchus, and then get the glory for it. To my mind, that’s a stretch.
Granted, when he decided to include us in his friendship quest God did take a colossal risk! He knew that we’d blow it a lot and he’d have to fix it. Yet he sticks to his plan. Still we have no excuse for misusing the abilities he gives us.
Of all the disciples, I’d have thought that Peter would’ve been the last one Jesus would entrust with anything sharp and dangerous! If I were in charge of materiel distribution, I’d outlaw all swords for all Christians for all occasions. Seems cleaner and leaves us less susceptible to impetuous debacles of Peter-like people. But that’s just me and it doesn’t seem to be God’s way. He lets us own swords and sometimes even recommends that we acquire one, but in such cases he warns us to wield them wisely. Unfortunately, yet predictably, Christians have been misusing the sword – in one way or another – ever since!
Maybe it was a test. He had clearly taught his disciples the art of nonviolent resistance, so maybe he was hoping they would ask him why they needed swords at all. Since they made no such inquiry, if it was a quiz, they flunked it! Had his teaching on loving and forgiving their enemies fallen on deaf ears? Hmmm?
Before you get your hackles up about “Just War” theory, gun control, or other such controversies, remember, we’re not talking here about the ethics of Christians with or without weapons but about our part in God’s quest of friendship.
Allow me an illustrative leap to weaponry of another sort. God trusts us with spiritual swords – if you will – gifts, abilities, and opportunities to show and tell of his love.
When is a sword not a sword? When it’s a word. We all know that the Word of God is called the Spirit’s sharp sword. Revelation portrays Jesus with a sword protruding from his mouth, as though it will be his words that win the final battle! Not all of us are teachers, prophets, or evangelists who typically use words – lots of them – to point to God’s Good News; but every Christian possesses the truth sword to speak on his behalf to reconcile the world to him.
It seems we forget who the enemy is and slay the hostages rather than the hostage takers with the sword of our mouths! This sword is as much of a surgical scalpel to help the sickened soul as it is a weapon of war against the enemy of our souls. It cuts through the most calloused conscience, into the diseased heart, and repairs it.
“Jesus didn’t die so that we could win bar bets with other religions about who understands God best.” Derek Penwell
Just because we can win arguments with people about God doesn’t mean we’re supposed to. You might be smarter, a better debater, and even more adequately informed than your “victims.” But it doesn’t please God or bring people closer to knowing him when we stab them with our “sharp” arguments! We might be able to slice up a Malchus with the sword of the Spirit, but why would we want to? Could it be pharisaical pride that would rather win a debate than a soul? If it looks, swims, and quacks like a duck…
“Winning over someone” (i.e. we win and they lose) couldn’t be any more dissimilar than “winning someone over.” Our job isn’t to win debates with people about Jesus but win people to Jesus, and when we do, everybody wins. They win because they find the best Friend they’ll ever know and we win because we were able to make new friends and bring them to the Lord’s Table to meet all our other friends!
It should come as no surprise that humiliating an “opponent” with witty arguments won’t bring them closer to Jesus. Winning theological debates can actually push people further away from God. Sometimes the holiest thing we can do is surrender our compulsion for verbal jousting and uploading terabytes of spiritual data to those we’re “evangelizing.” It’s not experts, but followers who beget other followers of Jesus. (I assure you that it is purely coincidental if it sounds like I learned these things from my own debacled evangelism attempts!)
“Some people tell a lie in a way that sounds like the truth and others, more dangerously tell the truth in a way that it sounds like a lie.” Soren Kierkegaard
Got thoughts about this?
In Part 2, among other things, we’ll look at the pluses and minuses of using apologetics in our friendship quest.